AFC East-Leading New England Toughest Test of the Season, Manning Says
INDIANAPOLIS – As Peyton Manning sees it, things have not changed much.
Manning, the Colts' 12-year veteran quarterback, has played the New England Patriots 17 times, nine times in the last six seasons. Since 2003, they have played:
• Six times in the regular season.
• Three times in the playoffs.
• Five times in New England.
• Four times in Indianapolis.
But no matter where or when the teams play, and no matter how much the rosters have changed – and Manning said without question they have changed – one truth has remained the same. He said it remains equally true this season.
The Patriots are good. Very, very good.
"It's going to be a great test for us," Manning said as the AFC South-leading Colts (8-0) prepared to play the AFC East-leading Patriots (6-2) at Lucas Oil Stadium in downtown Indianapolis Sunday at 8 p.m. "We all know that. They're playing really good football. . . .
"It will be, I think, our toughest test of the season."
The Patriots have won five of the team's nine meetings since 2003, winning in the regular season in 2003, 2004 and 2007 and beating the Colts in the postseason following the 2003 and 2004 seasons. The Colts won the 2005, 2006 and 2008 regular-season meetings and won the AFC Championship Game following the 2006 season.
The Colts won last season's meeting, 18-15, and have not lost in the regular season since. But while the teams have played some of the league's most memorable games in the last decade – and while it has developed into one of its most high-profile rivalries – Colts players and coaches this week said such things have little to do with what happens Sunday.
"The media is going to hype this game up like it's the halfway Super Bowl," Colts three-time Pro Bowl wide receiver Reggie Wayne said Wednesday.
"I guess you can look at it like it like this game is imant, but every game is important."
Since a 40-21 Colts victory in New England in 2005, all four meetings between the teams have been decided by a touchdown or less. The Colts beat the Patriots, 27-20, in Foxboro, Mass., in 2006, then rallied from a 21-3 first-half deficit for a 38-34 victory in the AFC title game.
The Patriots again traveled to Indianapolis the following season, and with each team unbeaten in early November, New England rallied from a 20-10 fourth-quarter deficit for a 24-20 victory in the final game between the teams in the RCA Dome.
"There have been some classic games between these two teams," Colts Head Coach Jim Caldwell said. "You can't discount that when you have two teams that have had the kind of success both teams have had over the years. There have been some pretty good battles."
The Colts, a playoff team the past seven seasons and the AFC South champions from 2003-07, are one of two unbeaten teams remaining in the NFL. They have won a franchise-record regular-season 17 games and are one of four teams in NFL history to win at least 17 consecutive regular-season games.
New England won the AFC East from 2003-07 before last season becoming the second team in the last 20 years to miss the playoffs with at least 11 victories.
The Patriots, following a 1-1 start, have won five of the last six games, winning their last three games by a combined 121-24.
"They have some different guys," Manning said. "Everybody wants to say, 'Tell me how different they are,' or, 'Is there a dropoff here or there?' You just don't see it. They've had different guys through the years. They've picked right up where the great player before him left off. You can tell the older players who were there who are no longer there have taught these young guys a lot. They've been good mentors to them. You can tell these guys have learned from these guys.
"It will be a really tough test for us."
The Colts have the AFC's best record, with New England tied for second with Pittsburgh (6-2), Cincinnati (6-2) and Denver (6-2).
The Colts' 17-game regular-season winning streak is not only a franchise record, it is the third-longest such winning streak in NFL history, with the Patriots holding the record of 21 consecutive regular-season victories, which they set from 2006-08.
But Manning said while the media and observers may spend time talking about the past, and about hype, the only thing about the past that matters when it comes to the Patriots is just like past seasons, New England is very, very good.
"It's kind of hard to speak for what has happened in the past because you don't know if that will repeat itself again this year," Manning said. "The one thing you can say is that both times the teams have met they've been pretty good teams. It's definitely the case this year. They're a good team, again. They seem to be playing well in all phases and hitting on all cylinders.
"That's not what we're thinking about, what's going to happen down the road. We're thinking about what is going to happen on Sunday. It's an AFC game. It's a home game. It's the first game of the third quarter, as we kind of break the season down.
"All those reasons, alone, are enough to make you want to win the game."
On Wednesday, Caldwell announced the team had signed free agent cornerback Anthony Madison and released defensive end Josh Thomas.
Madison, a fourth-year veteran, joins the Colts after appearing in four games with the Cleveland Browns this season. Prior to the Browns, the Madison played three seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers. In 2008, Madison played in all 16 games for the Steelers and led the team with a career-high 25 special teams tackles.
The Colts issued the first injury report of the week on Wednesday with the following players listed as did not participate in practice: DE-Dwight Freeney (not injury related-rested), WR-Anthony Gonzalez (knee), DB-Kelvin Hayden (knee), QB-Jim Sorgi (right shoulder) and K-Adam Vinatieri (right knee).